NBA Playoffs: Wade leads Heat to Game 1 victory

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The Miami Heat aren’t the most complete team in the championship hunt. They don’t have a reliable starting center or point guard. They don’t have a deep rotation. They don’t have a lot of guys who can create their own shots. However, the Heat do have a stingy defense, players who can make open shots, and two of the best players in basketball. On Sunday, that was enough for them to hand the reigning Eastern Conference champions their first loss of the 2011 playoffs.

Dwyane Wade was the story of Game 1. Wade struggled mightily against the Celtics during the regular season, but he picked up right where he left off in the 2010 playoffs on Sunday afternoon. Every part of Wade’s game was working perfectly. Wade’s often-unreliable jumper was deadly all game long; he made five of his nine mid-range jumpers and two of his five threes, including a dagger three shortly after Paul Pierce’s ejection that put the Heat up 16 with six minutes left to play. Wade also attacked the basket aggressively, and was effective on dribble-drives, off-ball cuts, and in transition. Wade was also active on defense, and finished the game with three steals and two blocks. Wade allowed Ray Allen to get the few inches of space he needs a couple times, but that just proved he was mortal. This was a masterpiece of a performance from Wade, who finished with 38 points.

Only two other Heat players scored in double digits. One of them was LeBron James, who had a good all-around game even though he “only” recorded 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Celtics were able to take away LeBron’s drives to the rim in half-court situations, which they have often been able to do throughout the years. LeBron didn’t get frustrated, and was still able to contribute by facilitating, grabbing rebounds, working in the post, making big plays on defense, and hitting some jumpers at key moments. LeBron didn’t need to do everything for his team to get the win over the Celtics, which is why he came to Miami in the first place.

The third Heat player to score in double figures was James Jones, who was absolutely crucial. Jones contributed 25 points off the bench, making five of his seven three-point attempts and all 10 of his free throw attempts. Jones kept the floor spaced for James and Wade by draining catch-and-shoot threes, which came off of dribble-penetration and the Heat’s “Hawk” sets designed to free him up off two off-ball screens. He was also able to play his usual brand of good positional defense, and was able to get into Paul Pierce’s head in the fourth quarter by being physical. Given how ineffective the banged-up Mike Miller has been all season, it’s hard not to wonder where the Heat would be without James Jones.

The Heat didn’t get much production outside of those three players. Joel Anthony continued to prove that he’s one of the most valuable defensive players in the playoffs, but he didn’t make a field goal. Zydrunas Ilgauskas continued to look like a complete liability. Mike Bibby made one three, but that was pretty much it. Mario Chalmers provided some energy, but also had a few glaring mental lapses. Chris Bosh managed to play Kevin Garnett to a stalemate, but the Heat would probably like to see their All-Star forward do more offensively.

Fortunately for the Heat, the Celtics’ offense was completely unable to punish the Heat’s lack of offensive depth. The Celtics made threes early and often, firing with abandon in semi-transition and making 12 of their 24 three-point attempts. Apart from that, they had few answers for the Heat’s swarming defense.

Rajon Rondo was unable to push the break, and was completely invisible in half-court situations. Kevin Garnett got few touches in the post, and his normally automatic catch-and-shoot jumper failed to find the net. Paul Pierce made some shots early in the clock, but couldn’t do much against LeBron James when the Celtics had to find some set offense, and lost his composure before being ejected in the fourth quarter. Even a dialed-in Ray Allen wasn’t enough for the Celtics to have any consistent offensive success. Worst of all, the Celtics were sloppy with the ball, which is an unforgivable sin when playing the Heat; Miami scored 23 points on 14 Boston turnovers.

Performances like the one Wade had are ones the Celtics are simply going to have to live with. Great players like Wade are going to have great games, especially when they’re hitting their jump shots. What they can control is their offensive execution. If Boston wants to leave Miami with a win, they will have to push the break more effectively and get better looks in the half-court. If Miami’s defense is good enough for them to need only one of their “Big Three” to be rolling on all cylinders, this will be a very long series for the Celtics.

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Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.